Category Archives: The Transparent Library / Library Journal

Ask for What You Want

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

When was the last time someone said lawyers or doctors needed to update their images into the 21st century? How many skits on Prairie Home Companion or Saturday Night Live have you seen where doctors appear as outdated, dowdy spinsters in need of love or romance? None. Yet Garrison Keillor’s “Adventures of Ruth Harrison, Reference Librarian” parades antiquated and stereotyped images of librarians as humor. Unfortunately, librarians are often portrayed as technologically backward, fearful of teens and loud noises, and overly protective of books to the point of not wanting anyone to “touch our stuff.”

This misperception may be caused by librarians’ desire to create rules and procedures to combat what are really behavioral issues instead of taking direct action. Just this week, a former library director told us about a situation she witnessed where staff wanted to remove from in front of the library a couch used by many patrons–moms reading to kids, older users waiting for rides–because one person who came in every day slept on it.

Enforcing the rules
Instead of removing the couch, the staff could have asked the sleeping patron to respect the library’s policies and get up. When asked why they hadn’t done so, the librarian replied that many years ago, she’d been verbally harangued by a patron after trying to enforce a similar policy. Instead of confronting the problem, or others like it, staff failed to enforce already existing rules. They acted in a passive-aggressive manner.

In the past year, we’ve heard about libraries that are considering closing because of rowdy teens, and we’ve seen libraries respond to behavioral issues by blocking social network Internet sites. Taking away chairs or couches, blocking legal web sites, and creating more and more rules create an environment where confrontation becomes more likely, not less.

Act without fear
In a seemingly unrelated problem, getting new initiatives off the ground sometimes seems to need an act of God, simply because new services mean change. For some librarians, change represents the potential to fail. For others, it’s a fear of success, that a new service might be too popular and draw too many people.

What underlying theme flows through these things? Timidity. Whether it’s the staff member who wants to remove the couch to spite the sleeping man or the librarian who wants to shut out the teens because they’re having too much fun at the computers, the librarians are often too timid for their own good.

Missed opportunities
When Amazon rolled out customer-written book reviews, and Google became our customers’ search engine of choice, where were the library directors who should have been standing up and demanding similar features from our ILS vendors?

When audiobook vendors gave us downloadable material that was incompatible with iPods, why did we roll over and buy it (at exorbitant prices) instead of declining the service and explaining to our taxpaying customers that we could not ethically spend that much money on a technology that only a very small fraction of our customer base even owned.

Working together
Yet this happens all the time. Our collective power is far greater than our individual power, yet we seem to be incapable of getting together and harnessing this strength to demand better products and services from our suppliers. How many times have librarians said XYZ company would never put up with this from its vendors?

And how many times have we looked at other companies’ services and equipment that seem so much more polished and refined than ours. We work individually and without centralization, so our vendors see thousands of weak buyers, unable to stand up and demand better quality. To be fair, library consortia address this need, often with great success.

Recent shifts toward open source collaboration [see “Evergreen: Your Homegrown ILS,” LJ 12/06, p. 38-41] and the vendor cooperation John Blyberg noted in “Always Pushing Information” [netConnect, Summer 2007, p. 2-4] spell out the promise of what could be achieved if we all work together.

Avoiding confrontation
How can we eradicate the theme of timidity that runs throughout our profession? How do we work to become stronger, prouder, and more willing to do our job of walking up to those loud or obnoxious persons and politely yet firmly telling them that they must either change their behavior or leave the library?

Our focus should be more on reinforcing existing policies instead of banning technologies. Focus on trust and open conversation instead of new rules. Focus on understanding those folks who might be breaking your rules by listening to their needs. Then act. You and your users will benefit.

Michael Casey is Information Technology Division Director, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, CA, and co-author of Library 2.0.

August 1, 2007 Library Journal

The Open Door Director

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

The job of library director is difficult and often underappreciated. These days, library directors are more like university presidents, needing to build support in the community, raise money, and make a name for themselves and their library. Obviously, this varies by the size of the community, but all library directors need to garner sufficient political and community capital to get budgets approved and expansions funded and to keep door counts high.

It’s no longer enough for the library director simply to keep the place running. Today’s director is politician and lobbyist, fundraiser and spokesperson, juggling all of these titles while administering a library.

Why is this relevant to a column about transparent libraries? Because it is one of those dark truths that most people in the field know but few dare speak about. Libraries do not operate in a vacuum. They are not preordained to receive funding or even to exist [see Jackson County, OR, story, News, LJ 6/1/07, p. 14ff.]. Like every other organization, libraries must account for the money they request and consume. Transparency-putting our cards on the table-allows us to learn and grow, and it lets our community see us for all we are, including our vulnerabilities.

Remaining relevant
One foundational Library 2.0 concept is that the library must make itself sufficiently relevant to the local population so that funding and political support remain and grow stronger. This means libraries must act in concert with other nonprofits that use marketing campaigns, lobbying, and grassroots networks to develop long-term, deeply rooted sustenance across different demographics and political strata.

Transparency plays a role in helping library directors achieve these goals by opening the process to everyone. How many times have libraries held closed-door meetings about budget problems, or tried to hide fiscal shortfalls by moving money around so no one would notice? We often think that keeping such things from the public will save us from being “in the news,” but what it really does is keep the public from knowing just how dire our situation might be. We confuse the short-term advantage of avoiding media coverage with long-term success of stable funding and greater outreach to patrons.

Making actors
Opening the process takes the public out of the role of spectator and transforms them into participants. If the library director has done her job, the community becomes even more than a participant, it becomes a stakeholder. And, as any lobbyist will tell you, stakeholders are far more willing to fight for what they have a stake in than almost any other group. And stakeholders vote.

Today’s library director can facilitate transparency by building openness within the organization and using the power of communication to reach out to the community. Open organizations, where staff and public feel free (and safe) to contribute new ideas and suggestions and to play a role in their implementation and evaluation, will win more long-term proponents than closed organizations that hide failures and weaknesses.

Reaching out
Open communications, one of the three key elements of the transparent library (LJ 4/1/07, p. 30), includes going out to the community, both physically and virtually, talking to people about their needs, about what the library offers and wants to offer, and about what it requires to move forward.

The 21st-century library director visits local community groups, business organizations, civic associations, and churches. He uses surveys-both paper and online-as well as some of the newer tools such as blogs and social networks.

Building broad community support today means reaching a population that is online and interacting. Different demographics call for different tools. This may require the use of several online social networks, with a message targeted to each group.

Online transparency
Your MySpace presence might talk about your plans for teen activities and your need for their parents’ vote in an upcoming referendum. Your Flickr page could boast of your latest children’s services activities, and your blog on the local senior center’s web site might talk about your upcoming computer classes and tax preparation workshop.

The goal, however, is to use all of these new tools just as you use the tools that you’ve been working with in person. Reaching out, being open and honest, and inviting feedback and input will help you succeed in a most difficult task.

Michael Casey is Information Technology Division Director, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, CA, and co-author of Library 2.0.

July 1, 2007 Library Journal

Living Out Loud

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

You’re “out there” whether you want to be or not. In the March 2007 Wired cover article, “The Naked CEO,” Clive Thompson illustrates that corporate blunders, missteps, and outright lies are exposed every day. One of our favorite examples is Diebold insisting that its voting machines are safe and secure while YouTube hosts a video of how to crack its security.

It’s similar to a child standing in front of you and saying he has not eaten a candy bar when you can see chocolate all over his face. We can understand lies from a four-year-old, but from an adult or, worse, from a large corporation, we cannot. And the public cannot, either.

It’s the cover-up
Transparency and arrogance are like oil and water–the two simply don’t mix. This is a very good reason for encouraging transparency in any organization. It’s very difficult for a transparent library to lie and shy away from the truth–the structurally transparent organization protects people from themselves. But the idea that transparency builds morale and creates buy-in is less known and worth exploring.

How do libraries embrace this idea of transparency? Part of the Library 2.0 mission is to involve the community in creating and evaluating library services. It’s simply not possible to include a community in this sort of service evaluation without providing honest numbers and evaluations. Transparency in service review is critical to its success.

What should stay private?
We think many personnel issues and financial dealings need some level of privacy or discretion. However, sharing big-picture thinking with staff is beneficial because it moves the library forward, and it is always best to be honest. If you talk to staff openly as employees or contributors who can innovate, meet user needs now, and eventually move into positions of leadership, then you’ve done succession planning correctly.

Are you promoting people because of their contributions and potential to lead or is someone being put into a management job “because she’s been here the longest”? We would certainly want potential management candidates to be clued into the library landscape, having already participated in the creation of services or enhancements to existing services.

Buy-in creates success
It’s easy for staffers to give lip service to an idea they don’t believe in and then step back and watch it fail because they had no input or information or, in some cases, not even an inkling that a new service or technology was coming.

Corporate blogs and wikis–and any other tools that create transparency in the organization–foster the concept of vertical teams, where front-line staff have the ability to communicate and cooperate with top-level administrators. This internal openness is as important as external transparency. Building morale within the organization–and sharing the big-picture ideas with everyone who will listen–creates a stronger and more motivated work force, one willing to participate and share new ideas. Such internal openness will translate into external transparency, which is vital to the library’s future.

This column, like Clive Thompson’s article, began on our blogs. Jeff of commented, “I think the transparent manager has to be able to open the decision-making to his or her staff and be able to handle criticism openly. Managers must remember that if they don’t open up decision-making, often the decision may not be followed.”

Lies unwelcome
Thompson correctly points out that secrecy is sometimes required in any organization–he uses the excellent example of Steve Jobs and the iPhone. But Thompson says that “it’s not secrets that are dying”; it’s lies that are no longer tolerated in the transparent organization. Openness is a one-way street; there’s no going back. Your public, your customers, expect it and will hold you to it.


Diebold Machine Flips Votes

Gather No Dust

Library Crunch

Michael Casey is Information Technology Division Director, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, CA, and co-author of Library 2.0.

June 1, 2007 Library Journal

Turning “No” into “Yes”

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

Often times, it’s born at the desk.
Staff members think of a new idea, and they want to share it with the decision-makers. They put together a presentation or proposal at the suggestion of their immediate supervisor and take it up to administration. But they receive a cold reception. Not only are they told, “No,” but they were “talked to” by the department head: “How could anyone think such an idea would work? Didn’t they realize that their idea had been tried five years earlier?”

Other times it’s born at a rousing conference or workshop. Ideas, innovation, and inspiration are the order of the day. Back at the library, a proposal for that new blog, instant messaging (IM) reference service, or the technology du jour gets the green light. But reality sinks in as roadblocks go up; poor planning diverts a good idea into limbo and a chain of long, drawn-out meetings sucks every bit of life from the inspiration.

A committee forms to analyze the technology, then a team comes together to write best practices, and then a workgroup begins a pilot program-and suddenly it’s 12 months later, and nothing has happened. More time is spent proofing and wordsmithing than actually planning and implementing.

Openness to change
Is this an exaggeration? Far too much truth lives in this scenario. And it’s not just new ideas that get trapped in this culture of perfect. Good people every day get trampled on by staffers who insist on blaming others for their own ineptitude. How many times have we all heard, “We’re not going to answer your question because you didn’t ask it correctly”?

Good employees who were once open to change and receptive to new ideas become entrenched in their positions and somewhere along the way become closed, curmudgeonly, and unreceptive to new ideas. Things now must be done “my way” and “by the book.”

New ideas are feared, and the words used to describe their birth become weapons. We hear “immature” and “kids” and “inexperienced” casually tossed off to symbolize the younger generation, while older staff who have new ideas are labeled whiners and dissenters and “those who should know better.”

Avoiding disaster
These dual issues of “the culture of no” and “the culture of perfect” are not easy to address. Alone, they can cause serious damage to the library. Together they spell real disaster–public relations nightmares, financial debacles, and, perhaps most damaging, the complete loss of trust between staff and administrators. This last rending is sometimes near impossible to repair.

Fractures that run this deep in an organization require structural change. Setting up vertical teams with staff from all levels of the organization is one of the first things that can be done. Strong vertical teams engender trust and solicit buy-in. They make frontline staffers actually part of the solution, and they allow everyone from the top-level administrator to that desk staffer see the big-picture issues the library faces.

Choose what fits
Successfully turning a “no” into a “yes” might simply mean allocating some time and staff to the Emerging Technology Team or Emerging Ideas Committee. Their exploration, evidence gathering, evaluation, and open discussion via a blog may be time very well spent. The more we know about a technology and its pitfalls the better.

The more we see past technolust and keeping up with the library down the street or on the cover of L.], the better we are equipped to make decisions for our users. We’d rather see three well-researched, well-planned initiatives go onto the project board than every foray into new realms and new sites the Biblioblogosphere is buzzing about. Simply put, choose what fits for you.

Get around the problem of “no” by creating an innovation workgroup. This team, charged with accepting new ideas and using the vertical-team format to give them all a fair and impartial review, can meet monthly to examine the newest crop of suggestions and ideas. Done properly and without reprisals, all ideas can get the open and honest evaluation they deserve.

A few libraries even keep logs of each time staff members are told “no.” Debriefing once a month, they discover that sometimes a string of nos can become yeses if policies are changed or shifted even slightly. Try a “no log” or innovation workgroup and see.

Right tool for the job
We’ve done many presentations highlighting the tools of the day–and we’ve written on them extensively. It’s easy to forget they’re not for everyone. Choose the tool combination that fits for your library.

Taming the culture of perfect can be done with a different mindset, one that involves play and experience.

Michael Casey is Information Technology Division Director, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, CA, and co-author of Library 2.0.

May 1, 2007 Library Journal

The Naked Library (or Radical Transparency for LJ)

Transparent Library Graphic Michael Casey and I are writing our next column for LJ’s The Transparent Library and we realized what a perfect place to discuss the recent Wired piece “The Naked CEO” by Clive Thompson. Thompson blogged about the article while writing the piece and asked for input.

At his blog, Thompson sums up so much of what we’ve been discussing about the advent of web 2.0, Library 2.0 and the almost-left-the-station Cluetrain:

Reputation Is Everything: Google isn’t a search engine. Google is a reputation-managment system. What do we search for, anyway? Mostly people, products, ideas — and what we want to know are, what do other people think about this stuff? All this blogging, Flickring, MySpacing, journaling — and, most of all, linking — has transformed the Internet into a world where it’s incredibly easy to figure out what the world thinks about you, your neighbor, the company you work for, or the stuff you were blabbing about four years ago. It might seem paradoxical, but in a situation like that, it’s better to be an active participant in the ongoing conversation than to stand off and refuse to participate. Because, okay, let’s say you don’t want to blog, or to Flickr, or to participate in online discussion threads. That means the next time someone Googles you they’ll find … everything that everyone else has said about you, rather than the stuff you’ve said yourself. (Again — just ask Sony about this one.) The only way to improve and buff your reputation is to dive in and participate. Be open. Be generous. Throw stuff out there — your thoughts, your ideas, your personality. Trust comes from transparency.

Let’s try this. We’d love to hear from directors, librarians, library staff — heck even users. Please comment here or at LibraryCrunch.

Some points to ponder:

What does it mean to be radically transparent?
How closely tied to radical trust is it?
Is secrecy dead?
What reputation do you want your library to have?

Introducing the Michaels

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

What prevents a library from being transparent?

Barriers. Roadblocks. Inability to change. The culture of perfect. The transparent library contains three key elements: open communication, adapting to change, and scanning the horizon. We’ll explore these ideas and offer solutions for those struggling with new models of service, technology, and a decidedly opaque climate.

The web has changed the old landscape of top-down decisions. “As the web becomes the greatest word-of-mouth amplifier in history, consumers learn to trust peers more and companies less,” said Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail. “And as the same trends play out within the firm, businesses are shifting from command and control to ‘out of control,’ distributing more and more power to the rank and file.”

Wade Roush’s idea of continuous computing connects to the present environment of blogs and wikis. The rise of the citizen journalist, armed with a cell phone camera and a desire for fairness and openness, has created a great stir in media and the nonprofit sector. How can libraries, scrutinized by as many blogging voices, respond in such an open, online environment? The Cluetrain Manifesto, published in 1999, urged businesses to speak with a human voice online. In 2007, the social world of “continuous computing” demands it.

Below are some tenets of the transparent library.

Open communication
The talking library has no secrets and gathers as much input as it can.
The transparent library both listens and talks.
The transparent library is connected, breeding the expectation for open conversation.
The transparent library establishes ways for our users to talk to us and among themselves with tools like blogs and wikis, community open houses, outreach events, and surveys.

Do we hear our users and staff when they ask for change and new services? Do we hear them when they tell us that what we’re doing isn’t working? Becoming the corner office curmudgeon is painfully easy, but maintaining an open and accepting ear takes hard work and a willingness to listen.

Open communication means talking to the staff and community about the library’s mission, plans for new services, and idea building. It means having open meetings where library administrators can discuss new ideas, either inviting in younger staff to high-level planning sessions or taking your meetings to the far points of the community to converse about new buildings or major service changes.

The transparent library wants to hear from the squeaky wheel but, even more importantly, also wants to hear from those without a strong voice, those in the community who need the library’s services but don’t always have the time or ability to speak up at board meetings or write letters.

By structuring the transparent library for constant and purposeful change we reduce the negative impact that change has on both the staff and user. Incorporating change into the organization through creative teams and open lines of communication allows the transparent library to add new tools, respond to changing community needs, and move ahead with new initiatives without shaking up the foundation.

Scan the horizon
Trend-spotting should be a skill for 21st-century librarians. Recognizing trends can lead to innovation and improvement. Folks like the technologists at Hennepin County Library, MN, or John Blyberg at the Ann Arbor District Library (now at the Darien Public Library, CT) recognize that people seek human connections online and integrate those social mechanisms into their catalogs. The open source software movement as a trend is changing the way libraries and vendors interact. (See Roy Tennant’s “Open Letter to ILS Vendors” for more.)

Successful gaming programs in libraries not only shatter the stereotypes of shushing librarians trying to control young people but offer a noisy, exciting, and fun place to be after school. And as we’ve seen in Maplewood, NJ, and elsewhere, the ability of the contemporary library to respond to after-school issues successfully is critical. Libraries have always been places to do more than simply read books, and now they’re becoming social networking centers, whether the librarian comes along willingly or not.


Ann Arbor District Library

Continuous Computing

Hennepin County Library

The Long Tail

Michael Casey is Information Technology Division Director, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, CA, and co-author of Library 2.0.

April 1, 2007 Library Journal

The Transparent Library: A New Library Journal Column

Michael Casey and I have some good news. We’ll be writing a monthly column in Library Journal starting next week. It’s called “The Transparent Library”, a title we like a lot. We’ll be applying some of our thinking and inspiration to organizational culture and libraries, with a slant towards technology as well. We’re very happy to be in LJ because each month the columns will be made freely available on web for easy linking.

Here’s just a bit from the first one:
The cultural and social shift we’ve observed, highlighted by Wade
Roush’s idea of continuous computing and the advent of blogs, wikis,
and the rise of the citizen journalist, armed with a cellphone camera
and a desire for fairness and openness, has created a great stir in
business and the non-profit sector. How can businesses, now blogged
about and scrutinized by a thousand plus blogging voices, respond in
such an open, online environment? The Cluetrain Manifesto, published
in 1999 urged business to speak with a human voice online. In 2007,
the social world of “continuous computing” demands it.

So to help set the path for this column we’d like to briefly examine
the four key components of the transparent library; open
communications, learning to learn, adapting to change, and scanning
the horizon. What prevents a library from being transparent?
Barriers. Roadblocks. Inability to change. The Culture of perfect. In
future columns we’ll explore these ideas and offer solutions for
those struggling with new models of service, technology and a
decidedly opaque climate.